Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Who Needs Feminism?
April 12, 2012 1:32 PM   Subscribe

A group of students at Duke University started a poster campaign that has spread to Tumblr and Twitter to ask this question: Who Needs Feminism? Already, some of the posters on campus have been vandalized.

Note: there were other posters that were vandalized, but the pictures were taken down off of the official Facebook page so as not to derail the positive energy.

Further note: some of the submitted entries may have rape/assault triggers.
posted by desjardins (160 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is really awesome. Thank you for posting.

I can't say I'm surprised by the vandalism, but man, that really takes a special kind of asshole.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:36 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Self-fulfilling prophecy is self-fulfilling.

At least they've gotten more attention now than they would have in the first place.

Christ, what a bunch of assholes.
posted by Madamina at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2012


Something like that is absolutely inevitable. All it takes is one person out of the entire population.
posted by Justinian at 1:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow this takes me back to being a student in the early 90s.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks. Just posted an image to the Tumblr. Because, you know. I had a sharpie.
posted by verb at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


that really takes a special kind of asshole. -- Well, we're talking about Duke. They have a history for matriculating assholes there.
posted by crunchland at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


The cool thing about feminism, at least to me, is that it's a more intellectually rigorous alternative to post-modernism.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:43 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Crunch, I think that kind of asshole is found on every college campus, and in a region called "The Entire God-Damn World".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man, this is totally the opposite of what I thought it would be before I clicked the link. In a good way, I mean. Makes the vandalism thing seem like kind of a minor point.

I think it also says something that when I think "poster campaign at Duke asking 'who needs feminism?'" I think "misogynist assholes".
posted by Scientist at 1:43 PM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


I think that kind of asshole is found on every college campus --- You may be right, though I suspect that they're a lot easier to find at Duke than they are at, say, Reed.
posted by crunchland at 1:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't looked through all or even most of them yet, but so far my favorite is:

Because having a vagina should never determine...

Who I am
where I go, or
How I get there!

posted by rtha at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2012


Man, this is totally the opposite of what I thought it would be before I clicked the link.

Ha, that wasn't intentional misdirection on my part, but I see how the post could be read that way.
posted by desjardins at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Crunch, I think that kind of asshole is found on every college campus

Seconding that, seriously. Pretty much every campus contains a cesspool of vile bros who are pissed they landed in a women's studies class because they had to fulfill a requirement of some sort but either skipped a majority of it or didn't pay any fucking attention or both. It's a joke to them.
posted by windbox at 1:48 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favorite is the dude holding a sign next to a woman:

I need feminism because I get more credit for being a feminist than she does.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [37 favorites]


College students are going to vandalize anything remotely looking like dogma, good cause or not. Fear not.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:50 PM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Wouldn't it be funny to deflate the earnestness of this effort with some casual vandalism" is pretty much the go-to attitude of any apathetic person anywhere.
posted by davejay at 1:50 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Assholes? Possibly. Then again, they may just be people with a sense of humor trying to make a joke.

A joke that would probably be applauded if it was using something else as the brunt of the joke.

For instance if they were posters about police, than a prank played on it wouldn't be labeled vandalism. It would probably turn viral and be loved.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Seconding that, seriously. Pretty much every campus contains a cesspool of vile bros who are pissed they landed in a women's studies class because they had to fulfill a requirement of some sort but either skipped a majority of it or didn't pay any fucking attention or both. It's a joke to them.

I'd agree that there are assholes everywhere (although I was raised from birth to think more of them go to Duke than other places), but are there places where people are taking Women's Studies classes to fulfill requirements? This is utterly unlike my college experience, so I'm honestly curious.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2012


OK, so I've read some of these now and while I totally cheer on this cause and count myself a feminist, some of the comments on that Tumblr blog are kind of thick.

"I need feminism because I want a world in which no one is stopped from doing what they really want to do."

Someone didn't quite think that one through, methinks.
posted by Scientist at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


please note I said "trying" to make a joke. Not saying what they are doing is right. Just pointing out that such "humor" is pretty common place. People forget that the humor they like is insulting to someone else.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man I gotta say before reading the links I was pretty offended by the 'Who needs feminism?' question being referred to as a positive vibe. 'WE ALL NEED FEMINISM GODDAMMIT' I was about to say.

Fortunately I'm just a moron.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


College students are going to vandalize anything remotely looking like dogma

As they should. If your awareness campaign can't survive a joke about sammiches, I don't think it's got much hope.
posted by rusty at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


People forget that the humor they like is insulting to someone else.

No one forgot that in these cases.
posted by hermitosis at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


...bros who are pissed they landed in a women's studies class because they had to fulfill a requirement of some sort....

Paraphrasing a comment overheard on my campus: "I heard I my women's studies class that that's actually not a cool thing to say, just kidding I would never take a women's studies class that sounds like the stupidest thing ever!"

Just the idea of possibly considering that feminism might have a point is seen as dangerously unmasculine in many circles. It's fucking depressing.
posted by Scientist at 1:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suspect that they're a lot easier to find at Duke than they are at, say, Reed.

Or, say, Smith.

Let's not pretend that Duke doesn't have a reputation for dickwaddery of this kind.
posted by Trurl at 1:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


are there places where people are taking Women's Studies classes to fulfill requirements? This is utterly unlike my college experience, so I'm honestly curious.

I have no idea. But in my college, I had to take an intro to literary theory class and the professors of those classes largely tailored them around their own academic specialties. So my intro to theory class was a feminism class.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2012


that really takes a special kind of asshole.

Everyone at Duke is special.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:57 PM on April 12, 2012


I dunno, it's not very useful to call ignorant college students pejoratives because they make light of something. You certainly won't help to educate them to your cause that way. Remember that they're basically babies in big bodies and are going to act out.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2012


rusty i think the idea that off the cuff bigoted insults are just things we should expect is both gross and sad

fuuuuuuuuck i need some more feminism over here this jar is almost empty and ive been smearing it on everythign i can reach
posted by beefetish at 2:03 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Doesn't the human race have a reputation for being an asshole?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:04 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


cool burhanistan what if they're late adolescents that arent in college, are we going to absolve them of responsibility for their behavior too or is it just the socially approved free-fire zone of college that gets the Get Out Of Consequences Free cards
posted by beefetish at 2:04 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


> cool burhanistan what if they're late adolescents that arent in college, are we going to absolve them of responsibility fo

This is the second thread in an hour where you've misrepresented me and used that inane, no punctuation style of writing. Go smear something elsewhere.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:06 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Burhanistan: as I go through life, I have continued to believe that everyone who is not my own age ± 3 years is either hopelessly immature or hopelessly hidebound.

Really though, the fact that college students are generally 18-22 years old doesn't excuse bad behavior. Even if they were 10 it would not excuse their behavior. One might still reasonably ask why they hadn't been raised better, and by 18 one is supposed to be an adult and to be able to behave like a member of a society rather than like a selfish asshole. That many people never manage this no matter how old they get still doesn't excuse the behavior, people should be better behaved than to vandalize shit that was made by people who are clearly just trying to gather together in order to improve their world.
posted by Scientist at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Huh, just stumbled on another awesome campaign at Duke: Breaking Out 2012

Develle Dish, Duke University’s feminist blog, is proud to present this gallery as part of a sexual assault awareness campaign initiated this March. The campaign is a deliberate student response to Duke’s new sexual misconduct policy, which reduces the statute of limitations for sexual assault on campus from two years to one.

[trigger warnings]
posted by desjardins at 2:10 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm torn. I would hope the vandalism can be seen as an attempt at offensive humor, which I often appreciate, and not as a serious dissenting backlash against the feminism awareness campaign, which I support.
posted by rocket88 at 2:24 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


But in my college, I had to take an intro to literary theory class and the professors of those classes largely tailored them around their own academic specialties. So my intro to theory class was a feminism class.

Back in my college days, every English class was turned into a literary theory class by the professor. Lacan, Feminist theory, close-reading - whatever the teacher's specialty was - was taught alongside whatever the focus of the class was supposed to be. Mostly, we read Frankenstein. I must have read Frankenstein for four different English classes.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is there are problem taking photos of wistful-looking people holding bits of paper written on with a marker can't solve?
posted by Jimbob at 2:36 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a great campaign.

Purely in terms of marketing, I feel like "feminism" is an unfortunate term these days. The people who most need to be exposed to feminist ideas are the ones who hear the word as a threat, as saying, you guys used to be in charge, now its the woman's turn. So they close their ears. "Gender equality" may be more effective.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I dig this campaign for a number of reasons, including that its very existence may cause Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly to break out in full-body hives.
posted by delfin at 2:50 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Purely in terms of marketing, I feel like "feminism" is an unfortunate term these days.

"These days" have been around for a long time. When I was in college in the 80s we made a short film called "The F Word," which was all about the phrase "I'm not a feminist, but..."
posted by rtha at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would hope the vandalism can be seen as an attempt at offensive humor, which I often appreciate

Maybe it's time to do a little introspection?
posted by ymgve at 2:55 PM on April 12, 2012


are there places where people are taking Women's Studies classes to fulfill requirements? This is utterly unlike my college experience, so I'm honestly curious.

At Macalester (a small, liberal, liberal arts college in St. Paul MN) there was a graduation requirement of one course each for the categories of "domestic diversity" and "international diversity". We had a small enough linguistics department that basically all 6 linguistics majors comprised most of the linguistics classes there. But the Language & Gender class had an extra couple dozen people from other majors. Only one of the additional people was a guy, but my sense that most or all of them were primarily taking the class for the diversity credits.

This was the late 90's. I have no idea if this requirement still exists.
posted by aubilenon at 3:17 PM on April 12, 2012


Vandalism. um... if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen?

Of course they were vandalized. Because some people like to pull other people's chains. Don't let it get you down.
posted by scelerat at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2012


that really takes a special kind of asshole.

No sir, I'm afraid that right there is your common, garden-variety asshole.
posted by mhoye at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe it's time to do a little introspection?

There are a bunch of people over in the 'Archer' thread who would likely find the same joke funny if Sterling Archer said it.
Most of us can laugh at something and disagree with it at the same time.
posted by rocket88 at 3:28 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wanted to weigh in with a "vandalizing things with earnestness bordering on sanctimoniousness is the natural way of the world", but I figured it would sound too similar to "she was asking for it."
posted by Apocryphon at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, "feminist" has basically always been a label that gets scorned and mocked and that some people bend over backwards to avoid.

Hell, if you look back at first-wave feminism in the 1800s — before the word "feminist" was even coined — making fun of the "sufragettes" was already a huge thing, and there were plenty of progressive women who were in favor of equal rights but would have made sure to let you know that they weren't one of those crazy unmarriageable bloomers-wearing radicals, no sir.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Vandalism. um... if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen?

The question is more, "why would anyone think this is something to get het up about in the first place?"

If someone vandalized posters proclaiming about how "murdering puppies is wrong," would you also say "if you can't take the heat" like that?....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm puzzled by all the "if you can't stand the heat" in this thread.

Not because we should all be overwhelmed by shock and outrage at the vandalism — but because it seems to me like the organizers of this campaign are actually doing a fantastic job of "taking the heat." They took the vandalized-poster photos down off their Facebook page in the interest of staying positive and on-message (the only linked example is on a third party's personal Tumblr) and basically they seem to have decided to take the position that this is beneath their attention. Seems like exactly the right thing to do. What would you have them do differently?
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Actually, I think the "if you can't stand the heat" comments are in response to other MeFi commentators in this thread, not to anyone at Duke in particular.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:40 PM on April 12, 2012


The problem here is that whenever I read "A group of students at Duke University started _______", I automatically start filling things like:
(a) a series of hate crimes
(b) working for hedge funds that loot pension funds
(c) buying new bmws with daddy's credit card
...etc...

So it took me while to figure what was actually going on in the post.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:56 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Fair enough. It still frustrates me a little, watching people get into shoving matches over the details of what are basically subjective emotional reactions. One guy says "This bugs me and I think that whoever did it is a jerk," and someone else says "Well, it shouldn't bug you, and for all you know they're not a jerk," and so on. (Or vice versa: "I thought this was funny" — "Well you shouldn't think it was funny," though that particular shoving match hasn't come up yet in this thread.)

There are interesting topics to discuss here. Does this sort of wink-wink antifeminist humor reinforce systemic sexism? If it does, what's the right way to counteract its effect? Is the poster campaign an effective way to advance the feminist cause? Did they do a good job with this particular campaign? And instead we get all this jostling over whether people's gut reactions to the thing are the correct gut reactions. If someone says "this bugs me," wouldn't it be more interesting to say "okay" and move on to a topic with more meat on its bones?

Maybe this is the political equivalent of the art threads that turn into arguments about whether or not you should find modern art boring. Anyway, it's a tad frustrating, though I guess there's probably some deep piece of human nature at work here and no sense trying to override it on a large scale.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


This was the late 90's. I have no idea if this requirement still exists.

Still does! Well, now they are called "Internationalism" and "Multiculturalism", but they still end up landing bros in WGSS courses.
posted by jeudi at 4:12 PM on April 12, 2012


As a college-age male I can tell you that a lot of other males around my age simply don't give a damn about feminism because they (rightly or wrongly) think that feminists only care about making the playing field equal for both sexes when it would benefit women. Many young men feel resentful that (in the USA) only men are required to sign up for the Selective Service System, so this leads to statements like "yeah show me all the feminists fighting for equal rights to be drafted by the government and sent to war, pshhh". Hence they treat it as a joke.
posted by MattMangels at 4:13 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow this takes me back to being a student in the early 90s

Uh, yep. Best time of my life, sure, but I can't say I miss "college" much.

I suspect that they're a lot easier to find at Duke than they are at, say, Reed.

Or, say, Smith.


Or say, Florida State. Or University of Idaho.

Cut it out.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:19 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


They shouldn't have taken down the vandalized posters, they should have spotlit them.

Those vandalized posters are evidence of why they need to struggle, why they need to shout and stomp their feet and rile people up about respecting women ('s futures, pay, medical privacy, education, expectations, etc.). A bit of a Casus Belli I suppose.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What an annoying campaign. I'm not sure if it's the twee earnestness of the participants, the sickening back-pattery or the general futility of this kind of middle class posturing, but it just drives me mad. I tried to look at the linked posters and got about half way through before having to quit (as the desire to strangle University students was getting too strong).

I guess I'd be tempted to vandalise them too. I know this makes me a bad person, blah, blah, blah but as a campaign it annoys the hell out of me.

"I need feminism because kittens and wishes and jargon, jargon, jargon and look at what a goood person I am."

You know when Michael Jackson was alive, and he spent his media time simpering about children being the future and it was all very creepy despite the fact that indeed, children are the future.

Well - this campaign gives me the exact same squicky feeling. It's not the message. It's the medium. And in this case, bleuuurghhhh.
posted by zoo at 4:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, feminism itself-- the concept-- needs good publicity like this. I know a number of women of all ages, whose actions and values could be unambiguously described as feminist, say things like "feminists scare me".
posted by threeants at 4:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I need feminism because kittens and wishes and jargon, jargon, jargon and look at what a goood person I am."

"I need feminism because my sexual identity does not dictate how much of a woman I am."

Far from twee, and right on, sister.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


yes zoo these sickening young feminists deserve to have you vandalize their posters that advertise that they need feminism because they are not really as good of people as they are pretending to be but instead creepy child molesters.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I completely agree with you, MattMangels, and that's part of the dissonance.. I know so many men who are, fundamentally, feminist at heart, but are very very confused by it due to the way that many people talk about it and the often times one-sidedness of a person's take on it.

I've been generally curious about this whole insurance/birthcontrol debate so I have been asking a lot of women lately what their take on it is. Mostly: "absolutely, I'm for it"... and then I ask them if condoms should be paid for, as well, as they fill the same basic utilitarian roll.. As a general rule, I have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that most of the women I have spoke to are all for that, too (so am I). But there were a handful that outright scowled at the me and told me that "carrying a living growing being in you for 9 months is a MEDICAL CONDITION" etc, etc.. (nevermind the fact that condoms can prevent that). I did not suggest to them that it would be men only (or men at all) that would be able to get condoms paid for by their insurance - I just asked "should condoms be paid for too". Many women are not able or do not want to tread down the birth control pill path, either for medical or idological reasons - why shouldn't they have a reasonable (and cheap!) alternative that is covered by their insurance?

Blows my mind really.. and keeps that dissonance going. *sigh*
posted by mbatch at 4:35 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


stagewhisper. I'm really not comparing anyone to child molesters, and to bluntly state that I am is disingenuous and inflammatory. And IMHO, as rhetorical devices go, this kind of misdirection is pretty much in the evil bag.
posted by zoo at 4:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


stagewhisper. I'm really not comparing anyone to child molesters, and to bluntly state that I am is disingenuous and inflammatory. And IMHO, as rhetorical devices go, this kind of misdirection is pretty much in the evil bag.

LULZ ok zoo. You totally got me there. Here's what you actually said. Sorry for the evil disingenuous inflammatory rhetorical device, I guess you just meant the students holding the signs were simpering and creepy:


You know when Michael Jackson was alive, and he spent his media time simpering about children being the future and it was all very creepy despite the fact that indeed, children are the future.

Well - this campaign gives me the exact same squicky feeling.

posted by stagewhisper at 4:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


At what level of "twee," zoo, would you be willing to treat as legitimate the grievances and arguments in the posters and not want to vandalize the messages or strangle the messengers? Because feminists hear often that their arguments are sound and people would listen if only they had delivered their message in a more palatable way, a way less "hysterical" or "militant" or "angry" or, well, "twee" now too, I suppose. Then the conversation becomes about how we can't even start the conversation when somebody is being so hysterically twee.

Feminists have tried speeches, books, blogs, education, podcasts, songs, art and the occasional poster campaign and yet they run into this objection in every format. "We'll not quarrel with equal rights but why can you not ask for them in a more palatable form? Be less militant, be less twee. It's so unbecoming that I can't even listen."

It's just strange, you know? With all that's been tried, it seems that like by sheer chance if nothing else feminism would have by now found an acceptable way to deliver it's message.

Ohwells, back to the drawing board. Less twee and middle class next time, got it.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [25 favorites]


Oh, and more thing, back on the 4th of July we had a fireworks display of our own here on Mefi. I won't link to the thread because I think many of us here would like to forget it, but it concerned a young woman who was upset that some guy awkwardly asked her for coffee late one night after an academic conference, and she made a vlog about the incident that became a very popular item of discussion on the internet. There were (I believe) over 2,000 comments in the original thread and the resulting MeTa thread, and for a little while I was starting to think that maybe I was wrong and that I was just being a jerk who didn't understand feminism.

And then I found this, and I hit the fucking roof. I realized exactly what makes me (and probably many other men) so angry about this particular strain of feminist. She wants to make money off her sexuality and feminine beauty but at the same time wants to reserve the right to be righteously angry and sanctimonious any time someone makes contact with her that she doesn't think 100% follows the "rules" about these sorts of interactions. In other words she's objectifying herself and then getting mad when men treat her like an object (and if you read the original thread what the guy did was very mild, despite what people made it out to be). And I think this is part of the problem: attractive women know that they have an advantage in their beauty, a "privilege" if you will (to use MeFi jargon), yet we're constantly lectured about "male privilege". Frankly I cringe anytime someone mentions male or white privilege or whatever, it's a total simplification. The most ridiculous thing I ever heard (not on Mefi) was "USA privilege", clearly written by someone who's either never set foot in America or has only visited the nice parts. As for male privilege, something like 1 in 4 black males will go to prison at some point in their lives, what kind of privilege is that? But to get back on topic I'm not saying women don't have unique problems of their own; you couldn't pay me to raise a daughter in this sick fucked-up culture. Again, I'm just trying to shed light on why it's practically impossible for college-aged males to take feminism seriously. And it's a shame because the past month or so has shown that one of the two major political parties as well as the single largest religious denomination in the world's richest and most powerful country have outed themselves to be diametrically opposed to the interests of women everywhere and they aren't afraid of flouting it.
posted by MattMangels at 4:53 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


So I'm picking one at random.

"I need feminism because 51% of the world is still an ism"

This is the stuff that drives me crazy. Firstly, it sidesteps the fact that other kinds of discrimination exists. That alongside the 51% of women is probably another 20+% of other marginalised groups. Secondly, it implies that if that number were smaller, it'd be OK.

It doesn't matter that 51% of the population are women. It wouldn't matter if that number was 48% or 10%.

As a slogan, it sounds great, but essentially the message boils down to the rather obvious message "sexism is bad" and the less wholesome message "and fuck everyone else."
posted by zoo at 4:55 PM on April 12, 2012


In case it isn't obvious I meant "flaunt" instead of "flout" in the last sentence I wrote.
posted by MattMangels at 5:00 PM on April 12, 2012


you know what my favorite fucking thing is about feminism threads on metafilter is that every time, every goddamn time, it comes back to people complaining about how we aren't doing it right, somehow, or that because their feelings are hurt because girls or something how could you.

fuck that shit, if the first response youre wanting to have about a feminisms is wanting to exercise your authority or air your own hurt feelings you are kind of part of the problem, guys, and i feel pretty fucking secure calling you guys, guys
posted by beefetish at 5:00 PM on April 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


EatTheWeak: You're right, and I have fallen into a tone argument. There's little excuse for that.

In my defense, I'm not saying that they shouldn't do any of this, I'm just trying to explain (to myself as well as to anyone else) why this campaign is so annoying to me.

BTW: So people are clear on this. Despite the accusations, There's no faction here. I disagree with that comment from MattMangels strongly. No way would I ever think that a woman shouldn't be given respect because there's a sexy photo of her. That's just wrong.
posted by zoo at 5:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's awful isn't it, MarrMangels, when a woman exercises control over her body with a way that does not jibe with how you believe she ought to conduct herself? Pity that she didn't check with you first, all of this could have been avoided.
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:02 PM on April 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


Firstly, it sidesteps the fact that other kinds of discrimination exists.

By the same reasoning, your objection also sidesteps the fact that there are other objectionable things, which, by not objecting to them at the same time, you tacitly approve.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:04 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm on my blackberry and can't dig it up, but does anyone else remember the 'Yes You Are' essay on Tomato Nation?
posted by orrnyereg at 5:05 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nice strawman zoo, but that's not what I meant. She herself distributed those photos to make money, knowing what she was doing. If you're going to distribute provocative risqué photos like that, some guy might get an idea in his head about asking her back to his room. Which is what happened. She absolutely has a right to say "hey that's creepy don't ever do that again". It's this attitude of "oh gosh, why are guys like that?" that bugs me. It's deliberately obtuse. Human beings want sex. Sure it's ugly and inconvenient; many facets of being human are.
posted by MattMangels at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


George_Spiggot: Because it gives a number "51%" to "ism". Not 51% to sexism. Not 78% to "isms".

So I disagree. This isn't ignoring issues in Syria because you're talking about how bad the coffee is - It's equivalant to saying "There is no murdering despotic regime that's as bad as this coffee".

If I can stretch a metaphor slightly too hard.
Anyway - I can pick another one if you'd like. There's loads to choose from.
posted by zoo at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


She wants to make money off her sexuality and feminine beauty but at the same time wants to reserve the right to be righteously angry and sanctimonious any time someone makes contact with her that she doesn't think 100% follows the "rules" about these sorts of interactions.

OMG, how DARE she be sexy and beautiful and simultaneously expect to be treated with respect?

Everybody knows only asexual, unattractive women have the right to be treated decently.

WTF?
posted by caryatid at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


I will say that I think a lot of social movements would do well to express themselves in terms of specific values (as depicted in this project) rather than in terms of abstract language. "I believe women have the right not to be raped" is a statement that resonates with any halfway decent person (I was about to write "most people", thought about it more, and then got depressed). "I am a feminist" makes a lot of people itchy; even though the word has a specific meaning for its proponents, it's a tabula rasa that opponents can project their own baggage upon. I'm not saying activists should actively disassociate from the movements that have fought for and won so much, but I don't think it ever hurts to express values explicitly instead of using shorthand.
posted by threeants at 5:12 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


MattMangels - How risque a photo should she have been permitted to sell before her permission to object to unwanted sexual advances was revoked? It's important to calibrate these things - would you not have "hit the fucking roof" were she wearing a tanktop, maybe some socks? Would it then have been improper to proposition her and her complaints valid?

Cuz yes, she is showing an alarming amount of collarbone there. But how much collarbone is she allowed to show before it undermines her credibility?
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


Because it gives a number "51%" to "ism". Not 51% to sexism. Not 78% to "isms"

Wow. Okay, let's go to this one:

but essentially the message boils down to the rather obvious message "sexism is bad" and the less wholesome message "and fuck everyone else."

Really. So if I say "racism is bad", and mention the percentage of (let's assume) nonwhites in (let's assume) the US, I'm saying "fuck everyone else" because that percentage is unrelated to other groups that are also discriminated against, like the handicapped, LGBT, the elderly, and for that matter, women?
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


the twee earnestness of the participants

I dunno about "twee", but in aggregate I did find many of the men's posters annoyingly, granola-eatingly oh-sure-I-love-women earnest.

Which is maybe more an ugly failing in myself I think: men damn well should be feminists, and the whole "you're just putting it on to get in with them" thing is a tired old trope for discrediting male feminists.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:22 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, I get it. You're objecting to "51% is not an ism" because it suggests that a lower figure would be a valid "ism". D'y'know, I actually agree with you. But one infelicitous choice of words by one participant doesn't invalidate the whole campaign's principle.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:22 PM on April 12, 2012


I tried to explain my position on this George_Spiggott. You can repeat your initial point as much as you want, but to my mind, I've responded to it.
posted by zoo at 5:22 PM on April 12, 2012


George_Spiggott: That last comment from me is slightly out of place. Was for you previous comment. And now I feel bad for being snarky after we've come to some common ground.
posted by zoo at 5:24 PM on April 12, 2012


I won't link to the thread because I think many of us here would like to forget it

But you'll none-the-less rehash it here because you're still angry at its subject?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:25 PM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm sad this is turning into another wtf discussion about collarbone flaunters, because I really loved this post. Yes, they're earnest and sincere. They're nineteen or twenty. That's how they're supposed to be. That's good.

The worst thing would be if girls that age thought they didn't need feminism anymore. That feminism had won, and all they had to do now was cash in on the rewards and coast their way through lives of glorious equality. That they could afford to laugh along with the jokes about sandwiches, as if that wasn't just another way of reminding women of their ultimate place, with some plausible deniability thrown in for good measure.

The best thing would be if campaigns like this weren't still so fucking necessary, but I guess that's not going to happen in my lifetime.
posted by crackingdes at 5:29 PM on April 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


Maybe I'm old and grumpy and I don't like earnest. Anyway, you're right crackingdes. You're absolutely right.
posted by zoo at 5:32 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sad this is turning into another wtf discussion about collarbone flaunters

That need not happen. Let us consider the matter closed in this thread. If anyone really needs to have a rerun thread, they can take it to MeTa.

It's fair to say there's some youthful excess at work in these posters, but there's a couple I like - clear, direct messages no thinking person could object to.

"I need feminism because equality doesn't just happen," held by a young man and "I need feminism because I shouldn't have to justify my ambitions" held by a young woman. Pretty on point, I'd say. And the campaign overall has a good hook, gets people thinking and talking about what they would write on that whiteboard.
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like this campaign.

There are a few reasons I think it is good, and actually not very 90's (though that gave me a laugh and shudder to remember my women's studies days in 88-92).

a) Men are explicitly encouraged and included.

b) Some participants have chosen to explicitly link feminism with other issues. The black pre law association is one example. And this one (sorry facebook) which is an Asian guy who says he supports feminism because he needs allies against oppression.

c) They chose to remain positive in their focus despite the vandalism, which is a good choice -- stay on message.

d) Several of the original posters include specific facts that are news to me. Including the black pre-law association above and this one (also facebook).

e) It reinforces the idea that there are many reasons for feminism, and also many sorts of people who support it, for many different reasons.

I can see why some might not like it -- too earnest, too granola, whatever. That's fine by me. I don't like all campaigns I see, even when I support the issue. Also, I don't think the campaign fails if some tmblr submissions are less articulate. (Or poorly punctuated! feminist punctuation committee activate!!)

Hopefully the different types of messaging can reach diverse audiences (including those who can't use an apostrophe).

Thanks for the post, desjardins!
posted by chapps at 5:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


"It's awful isn't it, MarrMangels, when a woman exercises control over her body with a way that does not jibe with how you believe she ought to conduct herself? Pity that she didn't check with you first, all of this could have been avoided."

It's sort of freaky just how much many men don't get the basic idea here. To them, it's either/or. Either women are never publicly sexual, or they have to accept being treated as sexual objects of desire by any men at any time. Put a sexy photo on the net? Then don't complain if you're hit on at work, or in class, or at the store, or wherever. Because the only notion of female sexuality these men have is that of women's sexuality being for male convenience. You're either available or you're not. On their terms, not your own. If you want to be publicly sexual and available on your own terms, how dare you? This is completely disregarding male sensibilities, and that makes guys like MattMangels "hit the roof".

I've long decided that a good portion of male sexism and misogyny can be traced back to men never getting beyond that common adolescent male sense of sexual frustration coupled with resentment that girls are "holding out" and consequently have all the power. This forms their basic worldview of male/female relationships and of women. They think themselves the true victims, and they're pissed. It's no exaggeration to say that every time I hear an adult male say things that have this subtext, they immediately transform in my eyes to frustrated teen boys who know almost nothing about women and their actual lives and experiences.

"jesus fuck this is yet another feminism thread on metafilter that invites an ugly faction of users to slither out from their hiding places and find solidarity with one another that I need to remove from my recent activity"

It's usually the same group, isn't it?

"As they should. If your awareness campaign can't survive a joke about sammiches, I don't think it's got much hope."

I can imagine a defaced civil rights poster that makes a comparable joke. Would you be so quick to defend that joke?

The reason for the need for this campaign is that people just don't take sexism seriously. It's amazing, really, and in the worst possible way. If the legally unequal and legally slave-like conditions of many women around the world had an equally widespread equivalent based upon race, people in the developed world would be up in arms about it. But about such conditions of women, they're complacent. And in the developed world? The majority simply doesn't take sexism here seriously at all.

"My favorite is the dude holding a sign next to a woman:

'I need feminism because I get more credit for being a feminist than she does.'"


And that's such total bullshit. Male feminists are so rare that apparently almost no one, men or women, has any clue at all what it's actually like to be a male feminist. No, a male feminist doesn't "get more credit" for it. And people also think that it's attractive to women, especially women feminists, which it occasionally is but otherwise is more unattractive than attractive. And that's because basically everyone distrusts the motives of male feminists (partly because of the stupid assumption that it's opportunistic).

I'm not asking for sympathy here for exactly the same reasons as that it's absurd and offensive for a white person to ask for sympathy for being mistrusted for fighting against racism. Whatever unpleasantness is involved, it's not really comparable to the injustice one is opposing. And, anyway, it just goes with the territory.

But it is relevant in just how wrong peoples' perceptions are on this. It says a lot of things that are deeply part of the whole problem. Fifty years ago, most people could hardly imagine why white people would go to the South and protest for Civil Rights. It seemed perverse. Those whites must have been "self-hating" or otherwise deeply emotionally disturbed to be involving themselves in something that wasn't their business. Maybe they were looking for notoriety. Maybe it was a fad. Whatever was going on, it most likely wasn't what they claimed it was: that they were fighting for justice. After all, there was injustice being done to white people. Jews were heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement — why weren't they fighting their own battles? This is how people thought.

Now, finally — and this is well within my living memory because this has changed quite a bit since the eighties — it's totally normal for white people and basically everyone to be opposed to racism, to be opposed to and outspoken against specifically racism against blacks. Why? Because racism is now widely understood to be simply about right and wrong. Justice and injustice. These are things that transcend special interests — our entire culture has a stake in fighting racism because it's wrong.

This isn't at all the case yet with sexism. Anti-sexism/feminism is perceived to be a special interest movement fighting for the interests of women, by women. And not even women in general, but only a certain category of woman. Because, for most people even today, there's no sense of the existence of injustice, of endemic and institutionalized wrong. And so the only rationale most people can imagine for someone being a feminist is that the person has a personal stake in it, something personal to be gained.

Which is convenient for the sexists and those who, for whatever reasons, have some vested interest in perpetuating sexism. With this perspective, they can more easily vilify feminists. They can think of feminists as selfish people working to increase their share in a zero-sum system. If they're men who never outgrew being horny-but-frustrated teen heterosexual boys, they can see this as another example of those awful women trying to have even more power over them. They can see feminists as women who hate men. They can see it as all sorts of things except as a fight against injustice, as an attempt to make the world a better place. Because if they saw it that way, then they'd realize that they had both a stake and a responsibility in this fight, too.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:12 PM on April 12, 2012 [26 favorites]


As a college-age male I can tell you that a lot of other males around my age simply don't give a damn about feminism because they (rightly or wrongly) think that feminists only care about making the playing field equal for both sexes when it would benefit women. Many young men feel resentful that (in the USA) only men are required to sign up for the Selective Service System, so this leads to statements like "yeah show me all the feminists fighting for equal rights to be drafted by the government and sent to war, pshhh". Hence they treat it as a joke.

For the record, I don't believe in the draft for men either; and if I did believe in it, I would be willing to be called up, learn to use a weapon, and go to war. Women have, believe it or not, gone to war disguised as men...in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and others...because they too believed that women should fight. The military right now is full of women who are able to fight, who in practice do fight, but who, because they are not allowed to be "in combat" according to military rules, suffer from lack of career advancement, never mind that IEDs don't care about your genitalia. Never mind that they, unlike most men, face sexual harrassment, the threat of rape by fellow soldiers, etc. etc. when they do go into the military.

So perhaps think about that when you are tempted to feel self-righteous about carrying around a piece of paper that means you maybe have a 1% chance of going into combat someday.
posted by emjaybee at 6:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: "I'd agree that there are assholes everywhere (although I was raised from birth to think more of them go to Duke than other places), but are there places where people are taking Women's Studies classes to fulfill requirements? This is utterly unlike my college experience, so I'm honestly curious."

I had to take WST 101 for my liberal arts degree at a state university. I was the only guy in the class, the rest were young women who had to take it because they were going into nursing.

What was really depressing was that they were all basically scratching their heads going "Huh? I don't feel oppressed! How do you spell privilege? But abortion is murder!" and totally not getting things. Most of the class period was supposed to be students saying what they thought about the readings, but since most of the students couldn't grasp the concepts (or do the reading) it amounted to some of the most awkward, painful two-hour stints of my life.

Moral: Don't go to state university if you want to do humanities. A more bro-ridden, conservative campus I have never seen.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:34 PM on April 12, 2012


...can be traced back to men never getting beyond that common adolescent male sense of sexual frustration coupled with resentment that girls are "holding out"

I think there's really something to this. And what I, as a guy, struggle with is: where does that feeling of frustration come from? Sure, everyone wants to get a little more action, but how does that turn into a lifelong longing that shapes your attitude toward women. And what's to be done about that all-too-common feeling, since it less people to dismiss campaigns like this? I don't have an answer.
posted by PCup at 6:43 PM on April 12, 2012


"For the record, I don't believe in the draft for men either; and if I did believe in it, I would be willing to be called up, learn to use a weapon, and go to war."

The idea you're responding to is an example of the whole "class hypocrisy" thing. It's not exactly like the more common form I usually talk about (form a stereotype and an associated basket of views about an entire class of people, find an individual in that class who says something that is inconsistent with that stereotype, call the entire class hypocrites), but it's related.

Here we have the idea that a) women complain about discrimination against them; b) but there's an example of men being discriminated against (and it involves life-and-death!); c) so somehow women are hypocritically in favor of that discrimination against men. Therefore they're not really against discrimination on the basis of sex, but rather it's all about making things better for themselves at the expense of men. Which, as I just mentioned in my previous comment, is the self-serving default suspicion/assumption many men have about women and feminism.

And yet in my entire life I have never, not once, encountered a woman who was both a feminist and also supported selective service registration only for men. Rather, every single one has either opposed selective service entirely, or wanted it to be sex-neutral. As you point out, the complaint/argument has absolutely no basis in fact. None.

I think that many of these young men MattMangels mentions know this. But they choose to ignore it because they just generally feel aggrieved and the truthiness of that argument is almost beside the point. The real point, to them, is that it sucks to be male and women have it great. Selective service, even though the draft hasn't itself actually existed for forty years, is proof of this. They no doubt have a litany of examples they could recite, if given the opportunity.

This is not unlike how, by some surveys, a (bare) majority of white Americans now believe both that racism against blacks by whites is no longer a serious problem while, simultaneously, racism against whites by blacks is a serious problem. People actually believe this. Just like evangelical Christians believe that they're terribly persecuted in contemporary American and Europe. Just like how Wall Street feels that they're badly mistreated. We live in an age where the actually privileged and powerful spend a lot of their time whining about their terrible comparative lot in life. How the unprivileged and powerless are the bullies and exploiters. We live in the era of "Lucky Ducky" arguments about how advantageous it is to be poor. To be female or black. Or gay. The straight, white male is the most mistreated person in our culture. It's repugnant.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


emjaybee - thanks for those links, that Albert Cashier / Jennie Hogers story was fascinating.

On the question of women in direct combat, I find the women of the Red Air Force in the World War II particularly compelling answer.
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tomato Nation "Yes, You Are"

I read it when I was about 18 or so and it has always stuck with me. It was the first thing that separated the stereotypes of feminists and explained what feminism actually is.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


We need feminism because so few college students are able to articulate why we need feminism.
posted by straight at 7:04 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think there's really something to this. And what I, as a guy, struggle with is: where does that feeling of frustration come from? Sure, everyone wants to get a little more action, but how does that turn into a lifelong longing that shapes your attitude toward women. And what's to be done about that all-too-common feeling, since it less people to dismiss campaigns like this? I don't have an answer.

Nearly every movie with a male hero, nearly every folktale, features a woman as a prize for achievement. A woman who never contests her demotion from person to animate trophy. By the time you were grown, you had heard that story in a hundred ways (just as women had heard the story that if you are just pretty and sweet enough, you will be rewarded with a rich husband and never have to do shit work anymore for no pay and no respect).

We absorb these messages whether we want to or not. But we can fight them.
posted by emjaybee at 7:05 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ivan, the guy who "gets more credit for being a feminist than she does" is saying that he's taken more seriously than a woman.

I don't think all feminist guys are just trying to be more attractive to women. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt. Creepsters usually out themselves pretty quickly.
posted by desjardins at 7:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Feminism is a precision blade and a spotlight, it shouldn't be a kerosene torch and a revving logger's chainsaw.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:21 PM on April 12, 2012


So if I distribute a photo of myself that strongly suggests that I'm naked behind some intervening object, I can singlehandedly undermine the message that men are due a certain amount of respect?

Damn. That's power. I think I'll do it as an inverse approach to achieving equality for women.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:24 PM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


The most ridiculous thing I ever heard (not on Mefi) was "USA privilege", clearly written by someone who's either never set foot in America or has only visited the nice parts.

This sentiment leads me to question whether you have ever stepped out of the USA. The privilege afforded to the citizens of a country that is one of the most (arguably the most) militarily powerful and richest countries around, and the largest (by population) first world democracy to boot, is undeniable.

As for male privilege, something like 1 in 4 black males will go to prison at some point in their lives, what kind of privilege is that?

The kind afforded to white people.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Nearly every movie with a male hero, nearly every folktale, features a woman as a prize for achievement. A woman who never contests her demotion from person to animate trophy.

At university, I wrote a paper on this with specific reference to video games (we're talking NES and SuperNES era here). As far as I recall, I found that something like 80% of games with a male protagnist had a female character as an objective or reward. Princess Peach, a feminist icon you are not.

The crux of the argument was the end of Double Dragon, where the two brothers who have fought together through the entire game to defeat reams of [generic Asian gangsters], have to fight to the death to determine who actually gets the girl.

Good times.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder, what sort of cringing spirit could see posters so earnest and so cliché, and not feel some urge to vandalize them? The "sammich" gag is pretty lame, but they can't all be winners.

"Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch." -Kundera

I mean, yes, we do still need feminism for all the reasons they say, and it's not fair to ask a bunch of 19-year-olds to be anything other than earnest and unoriginal. But just as I'd expect one 19-year-old to be drippily demanding, I'd equally expect another 19-year-old to be an enthusiastic puncturer of pieties, no matter how worthy.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:58 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, exactly, is wrong with being earnest?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Ivan, the guy who 'gets more credit for being a feminist than she does' is saying that he's taken more seriously than a woman."

Well, that's true in general and that's why we need feminism. But I don't think that's what he was saying. Look at how he phrased it: he said specifically that he "gets more credit for being a feminist than she does". "Get more credit" is distinct from "has more credibility", although I don't think the latter is true, either, although (again) it certainly is true that men are by default taken more seriously than women.

My personal experience is that there's more of a dual-and-opposing-biases thing going on at the same time within this very narrow context. On the one hand, I'm male and I bring to the table both my functional privilege and my enculturated learned facility at exercising that privilege. Thus, taken more seriously as the default. On the other hand, being male within the specific context of feminism is a strike against my credibility for both men and women. It's tempting to want to say that it evens out, but that would be assuming that a) the two forces are approximately equal and I'm not prepared to assume that or even attempt to evaluate the matter; and, b) that these two forces are additive, which I don't think they really are. I think they don't cancel each other even partly; but, rather, they interact in complex ways.

So, on the credibility issue, it's complex. In some ways, yes. In other ways, no.

On the "getting credit" issue, which I interpreted as involving an accrual of virtue or esteem to one's social identity; no, I don't think that's that case.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:12 PM on April 12, 2012


This is not unlike how, by some surveys, a (bare) majority of white Americans now believe both that racism against blacks by whites is no longer a serious problem while, simultaneously, racism against whites by blacks is a serious problem. People actually believe this. Just like evangelical Christians believe that they're terribly persecuted in contemporary American and Europe. Just like how Wall Street feels that they're badly mistreated. We live in an age where the actually privileged and powerful spend a lot of their time whining about their terrible comparative lot in life. How the unprivileged and powerless are the bullies and exploiters. We live in the era of "Lucky Ducky" arguments about how advantageous it is to be poor. To be female or black. Or gay. The straight, white male is the most mistreated person in our culture. It's repugnant.
I've spent a fair amount of mental energy trying to unpack exactly how this very common reversal works. I think it goes something like:

1. Take a charge of discrimination against a population that has been historically mistreated by the status quo.
2. Look for examples of how policy has been enacted to curtail or reverse this mistreatment.
3. Take a single isolated example, carefully selected to target a provocative subject (abortion, or taxes, or affirmative action, for example)
4. Borrow the terminology of the protesters to formulate a reverse statement. "X is discriminated by society because of Y" becomes "X has it off so well because of the policies we enacted to protect them from Y".

I think it only works because the reversal is a stand-in for the selfish and paranoid suspicion that society is a zero-sum game, where women or minorities who succeed in the workplace are literally taking jobs from white males.

I've also heard someone say "life isn't fair" in response to some statistic or other about minority representation in professional fields. As if there is some deity who randomly assigns race, gender, sexuality and class, and you're up shit creek if you just happen to end up with a bad hand. Like you're a poor sport for being the subject of institutionalized discrimination and having the audacity to complain about it.
posted by deathpanels at 8:23 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Feminism is a precision blade and a spotlight, it shouldn't be a kerosene torch and a revving logger's chainsaw.

Is this an argument in favour of being earnest?
posted by chapps at 8:54 PM on April 12, 2012


"I think it only works because the reversal is a stand-in for the selfish and paranoid suspicion that society is a zero-sum game, where women or minorities who succeed in the workplace are literally taking jobs from white males."

I think your analysis is correct, but I think there's something even simpler going on. While I agree that it's not the case that "society is a zero-sum game", it is the case that privilege and oppression are two sides of the same coin and eliminating one means eliminating the other. And so, yes, in many cases the various forces which are reducing injustice are reducing privilege which, from the perspective of the privileged, feels like being oppressed.

It shouldn't feel that way, but I think that this is an innate bit of human psychology. Privilege is largely invisible to the privileged. It's what's normal. When it's taken away, that's a distinctly negative experience — it's not experienced as losing an unequal benefit, it's experienced as taking on a liability. It feels oppressive.

And the privileged class is exquisitely unaccustomed to feeling anything remotely like oppression. To the never-before-injured, a paper-cut is the height of agony. This isn't actually an injury, but it feels like it. Or a better analogy: it's like withdrawal from opiates (something as someone who lives with chronic pain, I've experienced far too often). The loss of the stimulation of the pleasure center of the brain feels pretty much exactly like generalized misery, both physical (in numerous forms) and mental. Maybe it really is a form of pain. Maybe it's purely an absence of overstimulated pleasure. Maybe physiologically at that level there's little difference. I don't know. But that's what it feels like.

I went through an extended and painful awakening to the reality and extent of sexism during the fall and winter of 1984-1985 at a large university. At first I had a guide to help me see some things I'd not seen before, but then shortly I just began to look. And, as a young man of 20 years-old, it was like moving into a completely different reality. I started thinking about how, as a lab assistant, I would call campus security to escort young women back to their dorms while, in contrast, I'd walk there every night without even a single thought about my safety. Suddenly, I realized that fear for my safety, though occasional, was not something that formed a backdrop to my public life as it does for most women. And that this was an enormously different experience of life. I started watching how profs reacted to and talked to women in class relative to men. How men and women talked and listened to each other in groups. And on and on and on. It was frankly horrifying and difficult to process. How could I not have seen this before? It's so obvious. (And, by the way, there were a lot of times when I wanted to unsee it. Even now I sometimes feel that way.)

I mention this because my awareness of sexism is personally my clearest and most vivid experience of becoming aware of my own privilege. Also, it makes it easy to see the lack of awareness of that privilege among other men, when that lack of awareness exists (as it usually does). And it seems to me that not being aware of privilege is one of its most salient and deeply influential attributes.

So when you lose that privilege? If you didn't even know you had it in the first place — you don't even know how to see it at all — then it feels like a punishment.

All these people feel aggrieved and oppressed because their own experience of losing some of their privilege is pretty much, subjectively, just like being oppressed and results in their feeling aggrieved.

That is not, in my mind, any sort of excuse. Or, at least, it's not an excuse for very long. Maybe at first. But most of these people we're discussing have taken that feeling and formed an entire, entrenched worldview around it. Alternative histories. Conspiracy theories. They've moved beyond what is understandable and merely human into what becomes morally corrupt and simply self-serving at others' expense. It becomes something willful. After all, if the nature of privilege is that it's invisible, then losing that privilege should, eventually, provoke some sort of careful evaluation of one's experience. Especially when everyone else is telling you that you're not being oppressed, you're just finally having to play by rules that are more egalitarian. It's understandable that a paper-cut might feel to some like a terrible pain. But once someone mentions that it's really far from the worst pain people regularly experience? Then refusing to consider that is a failing, it's not excusable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:57 PM on April 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


Well I don't really want to weigh in on the original posts, but the inevitable commentary seems to be worth weighing in on because we've been here before and we never get anywhere. For the record, before I ruin my precious online reputation, I think vomiting one's sexual frustrations on threads about feminism is not useful or appropriate (I need feminism because we should have something in the world that is not about me getting laid), but since it always happens and we're already cleaning up the mess, I want to discuss why I think it happens, because I think the reasons mentioned so far are a little wide of the mark.

The straight, white male is the most mistreated person in our culture. It's repugnant.

Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. [...] Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real

They think themselves the true victims, and they're pissed. It's no exaggeration to say that every time I hear an adult male say things that have this subtext, they immediately transform in my eyes to frustrated teen boys who know almost nothing about women

To be very self critical, that's a totally fair way of looking at me, (although I don't like my emotional response, so I don't think I'd ever say anything out loud to trigger your disgust, I self censor an awful lot). But that doesn't really change my experience or help me get out of my myopic worldview does it? I mean, ok, my worldview is horribly self centered, and your response is an ad hominem attack. If I'm convinced that my life has been unfairly difficult (I am, and I'm relatively confident that this is the human condition (see especially the part about "The Ungrateful Biped".) for the vast majority of us, if not absolutely every one without exception), as repugnant as it is, my emotional response is to be automatically suspicious of anything that would favor a group that doesn't include me. After all, haven't I had it bad enough already? I've tried to conceive of a "good enough life" that I wouldn't feel this way, what I would actually have to acquire/achieve to not feel "wronged" by the universe, and I can't even imagine a realistic example. If this is not your experience, then I am happy that you are so privileged to experience the world so much more pleasantly.

And I know the statistics about rape, and the statistics about racial imprisonment, but that doesn't make this feeling go away. I don't have any capacity for living inside some kind of permanent shame system because of my privilege, nor do I think there is any reason to, because I don't see how it would change anything. I don't have any capability to "give up" anything here. So I've really never understood the privilege argument, from a getting-things-done perspective. Yes, I could become even more aware than I already am of the privileges I have due to things about me that I didn't choose and can't change. But if this just makes me unhappy and changes nothing, why should I? I mean I have to do a lot of deliberate work just to maintain my own emotional stability, I'm just not up for something that makes me uselessly unhappy. What is the desired reaction to this?

I'm capable of using willpower and smashing my selfishness down to react to specific problems. Zimmerman should be tried, I've read Watson's arguments and she definitely is correct that the "atheist" community has a sexual discrimination problem, and I've seen it when meeting in groups very vividly. I do what I can to not encourage or tolerate it, (mostly this involves getting up from the table when conversations get bad, I'm clearly making a huge difference :/). We need to change the drug laws in this country because they function as a modern Jim Crow system. I wouldn't deface a sign as was done above. I agree that it is disgusting that women fear for their own safety as was mentioned in a recent post, (I do fear for my own safety more often than I have any reason to, but I agree not even on a comparable level). I can't think of any way to approach women that wouldn't be awkward and unwanted, so I pretty much just use OK Cupid. The result of that is that I've been on about 2 lousy dates in the past 10 years. You would not believe how incredibly pissed I am about this, how much self pity and "seeing myself as a victim" I can generate out of it. You think all the unhappiness and depression and setbacks I've experienced are a "papercut" or "withdrawal"? Fuck you. I can't think of any way to even begin to be nice about it. What I hear from your position, (perhaps unfairly, feel free to let me know, because I really don't understand it), is that my emotions/self are fundamentally of minor or insignificant value because of my privilege.

We live in an age where the actually privileged and powerful spend a lot of their time whining about their terrible comparative lot in life.

I think this is what human beings do, you hear more from the powerful because they can buy bigger loudspeakers. The comparative part is absolute bullshit, I would not disagree. But the horrible fact may be that the "terrible lot" part is what many, many, of us experience day to day, and when we communicate we're going to want that to be validated even if we (individually and unarguably) own half the planet. It creates what looks to me like a very hopeless situation. The people who are being objectively wronged have the objective moral right to justice, but the only way I can imagine that they get it is force.
posted by SomeOneElse at 9:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


@the man of twists and turns

it's uncool and uncool things give me panic attacks because im terrified of being uncool
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:54 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mention this because my awareness of sexism is personally my clearest and most vivid experience of becoming aware of my own privilege.

Indeed. I think one of the thins that is so difficult to accept about it is the knowledge that I have benefitted unfairly from systemic discrimination and sexism. That's not a matter of "liberal guilt," or whatever antifeminists are calling men who disagree with them. It's a matter of basic human psychology: we all want to believe that we've succeeded purely on our own merits, and that our successes are honest and legitimate and untainted by unearned advantage.

Admitting that systemic discrimination exists means accepting that we men are not -- individually, at least -- as strong and as successful as we would like to think of ourselves. This is not to say that we'd all be losers were it not for sexism, just that our comparative lots in life have been materially improved by systems that hold down women for our benefit. It's an ugly way of saying it, but honesty is important.

A friend of mine and I were just talking about this, and his objection was that no one should allow themselves to be "discouraged" from doing something by another person, and that women who were discouraged simply didn't want to pursue positions of leadership, or jobs in science, or whatever, as much as men. Then we talked about the systemic side of things: two groups with equal motivations, with one group of people discouraged while the other is encouraged. It's no surprise that one group will end up with more people on the other side of the metaphorical sieve. That clicked for him, and he nodded thoughtfully. The numbers are not about whether one person can or cannot succeed despite the odds. It's about the odds, the cultural systems that weight them, and the individual assumptions that the resulting outcomes are a reflection of 'the natural order of things.'

I am under no obligation to self-flagellate because I have succeeded; I am obligated morally and ethically, as a member of the human race, to work to ensure that others have the same chance and the same support and the same encouragement that I did regardless of race or gender or whatever fucked up thing we decide to look over our noses at.


But the horrible fact may be that the "terrible lot" part is what many, many, of us experience day to day, and when we communicate we're going to want that to be validated even if we (individually and unarguably) own half the planet.

This is really one of the things that comes up so frequently in these discussions that it's almost painful. I don't mean to imply that you're arguing against the concept of male privilege, just reflecting on the "What, you think I'm on top of the pile just because I'm a guy?" response that is heard so frequently.

The underlying theory of male privilege is not that the members of set [man] are all in a better position than the members of set [woman]. It's that the set [man] and the set [woman] each have a set of culturally enforced bonuses and penalties, nudging the members of one set incrementally higher while nudging the members of the other lower in most interactions, negotiation circumstances, public assessments, and so on.
posted by verb at 9:55 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


If men and women were 100% equal, what, apart from some jobs and wages*, would the average male lose? I don't understand the whole paper cuts analogy or rather how it relates to this topic. If more rapes are prosecuted then less men can rape with impunity and … what? The average guy will keenly feel this loss? What is being referred to here?

* I know these aren't zero sum in the long term but in the short term it will cause some tangible losses.
posted by desjardins at 9:57 PM on April 12, 2012


It's great to come to the Blue and discover that even here men are still trying to dictate what it means to be a feminist and whether or not the form of feminism that is being portrayed in and advocated by the poster campaign in the OP is "valid".

No. Just no.

And for what it's worth, my only critique of the campaign has to do with the use of the word "equality". It's really about "equity", and yeah, there's a big difference between the two.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:00 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or, say, Smith.

I don't know, I went to Smith and heard plenty of "I'm not a feminist, but..." types of conversations.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:36 PM on April 12, 2012


I used to be allergic to sincerity. And then I found a group of people who accepted me as I am and I'm a lot happier now.

That immune reaction served a purpose once. Vaccination against the *totally* *sincere* bullies and bigots of the world. But they lose their power over you as you grow up and develop capacity for adult critical thinking and healthy compartmentalization.

The allergy to sincerity can kill you with anxiety. It is certainly killing our society because otherwise smart people become smart alecks the second you're passionate about something: global warming, the economic gap, racism, feminism... We need passionate people working on these problems. Thank goodness for them all and fuck the fucks who are passionate about denialism, bigotry, and puritanism. We're adults now. We can make critical judgements about who is passionate for an ethical cause and who is passionate for a wrong one. We can even let people slide on things that we're neutral on.

zoo: I really hope you eventually grow to question your gut reaction to censure or snark peoples' earnestness. That reaction is going to close a lot of doors for you.

MattMangels: Your bitterness is really apparent here. People aren't always going to seem consistent to you, but that's because no one can fully enter the theater of someone else's mind or fully understand where the other is coming from. That doesn't have to be so bad.

As a token white, straight, middle class, male I guess I do lack the privledge of being able to be the first person to raise their hand and share their identity story during a discussion like this or about racism or about classism. And, like all people, I just want to be understood and loved for who I am so it hurts a little. But, you know what? I've gained so much knowledge and understanding from sitting back and listening and I've gained so many awesome people's respect by active listening and paraphrasing techniques that I am really happy to sit back and listen and know that my time to share will come later.

PS: An Ask Reddit answerer nailed that draft question today. Which is to say, it's a strawman and organizations like NOW have made active statements against the draft.
posted by Skwirl at 10:51 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


"You think all the unhappiness and depression and setbacks I've experienced are a 'papercut' or 'withdrawal'? Fuck you. I can't think of any way to even begin to be nice about it. What I hear from your position, (perhaps unfairly, feel free to let me know, because I really don't understand it), is that my emotions/self are fundamentally of minor or insignificant value because of my privilege."

You're making a couple different arguments here.

What I characterized as "papercuts" or "withdrawal" was the experience of losing a privilege, not an actual hurt. The things you're describing are actual hurts.

But your other argument seems to be that it's not possible or realistic or even desirable for someone to have a sense of how their own experiences compare to those of others. And not just that, but that if you're miserable then it's reasonable and acceptable to actually resent other people on that basis, and without consideration for how your experiences compare to theirs.

And, yeah, I think that's morally infantile. I do think that it's human, and sort of the default unless one makes an effort to go beyond it. But that it's necessary and justifiable, even beneficial? Not at all. No way.

Also, the thing is, I'm a straight, white male, from a middle-class background and of above-average intelligence and, at the same time, I'd be willing to wager real money that my last ten years have been as awful and miserable as yours, or worse. I'm disabled from a genetic bone illness, in constant pain and unable to be active, am very poor and live on social security disability of less than $1,000 a month, have because of all this seen my life in terms of both activity and socializing become more and more limited to the point at which I'm now effectively in complete isolation, and I've had just one actual romantic relationship during this entire period and it only lasted a few months. I also have suffered chronic major depression most of my life and I spent nearly five months in 2010 in a constant state of suicidal depression and the only reason I didn't get electroconvulsive therapy for it was that recent research has indicated that it does, in fact, cause long-term cognitive problems. My life sucks a lot. In most respects, I'm much worse off than many or most of the low-income, minority people I live among.

And you know what? I'm still very aware of my privilege and I'm aware that, even now, that privilege means that I'm quite a bit better-off than I would be with the same problems but were I not white, not straight, not male, not middle-class, not above-average in intelligence.

Does this mean that yours or my suffering don't matter? Of course it doesn't mean that. But it does mean that if and when I experience some loss of privilege because the playing field has been leveled in a way that it wasn't before, it's not adding insult to injury and that "those people" are responsible and I'm justified in being angry with them because they're better off than they were before and I'm worse. No, I realize that I had previously been enjoying an advantage that came because of an accident of my birth which corresponded to a disadvantage that others experienced because of an accident of their births.

You can go on being angry at other people and blaming them and lacking any empathy for their problems and their experiences in a way that denies their lack of privilege and the presence of your own. I can't stop you. But it's not justifiable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:12 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


"If men and women were 100% equal, what, apart from some jobs and wages*, would the average male lose? I don't understand the whole paper cuts analogy or rather how it relates to this topic. If more rapes are prosecuted then less men can rape with impunity and … what? The average guy will keenly feel this loss? What is being referred to here? "

There's a world of sexism against women that isn't sexual violence. Although even within that context, the privilege that men would lose would be the privilege of getting away with it, which they still mostly do.

Women being pushed to the back of line mean that men get to be in the front of the line. For every oppression, there's a corresponding privilege. Yes, many things are individual and localized, like being the victim of sexual violence and being the perpetrator of sexual violence. But other things are distributed across entire classes of people.

There are many things, such as stereotypes about sex differences with regard to mathematics ability and how that involves education, that affect women negatively as a group and men positively as a group. If a math teacher dismisses half his/her class because he/she assume that the female half is not capable, that doubles the amount of his/her time available for teaching the remaining male half. If that prejudice is eliminated, the male students will find the attention they receive from their teacher halved. If our society eliminates that prejudice, then men as a class will find that the presumed mathematical ability which advantaged them over women in all cases where the presumption is invoked will disappear and they will be worse off.

It's arguable — indeed I consider this among my core beliefs — that justice and egalitarianism have a multiplying factor that, eventually, increases the overall well-being of a society and so, after an adjustment period, the elimination of these corresponding paired disadvantages/advantages will become a net positive and not zero-sum. And the reverse is true: inequity and injustice are net negatives, eventually. Initially it's just redistributive. Ultimately, it's destructive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


That immune reaction served a purpose once. Vaccination against the *totally* *sincere* bullies and bigots of the world. But they lose their power over you as you grow up and develop capacity for adult critical thinking and healthy compartmentalization.

Yes!! Thanks for this, Skwirl.

I have been grappling with some of these themes since the hey day of identity politics, a golden age in which i am sure I told many men they didn't understand x or y because of their gender and never bothered to really listen because why should I women are never heard etc. It's amazing I ended the era with some male friends, actually! (Sometimes in a fit of nostalgia I tell Mr Chapps "you have to do the dishes because 10,000 YEARS OF PATRIARCHY!!!!!" haha.)

Nonetheless, I also have to say there is some truth to identity politics -- the absolute frustration it reflects does come from somewhere, after all. But it seems better at expressing frustration than changing minds, or building capacity for social change.

Ultimately I just don't think people can be accurately predicted by social categories, even though we face discrimination as a result of these categories. People are so much more complex.

And as a result, I tend to support building solidarity as a tactic for social justice movements, rather than anything that

a) tells other people what they feel about an issue based on their (assumed) social categories,

b) doesn't engage in respectful debate and accept that people don't have to agree,

c) believes fear, discomfort, or not knowing something are the same thing as being sexist,

d) dictates correct reactions to discrimination (witness or experienced), or

e) generally makes it harder to join social movements when you don't know everything already.


So ... onwards, but imperfectly!
posted by chapps at 11:17 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, then I did misunderstand and I'd like to sincerely apologize. I let a lot of emotion that swelled up in me reading your stuff get loose and I lashed out inappropriately. I'm sorry for that.

I do think I feel empathy and I agree that it is right to feel empathy, but I also understand why it is a painful and rare thing, and I can't manage it all the time. I guess I failed at it pretty badly tonight.
posted by SomeOneElse at 11:18 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich, you've been rational, erudite, considered, and patient throughout this entire thread. Bravo, and thank you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, Ivan, thank you. You put into words feelings and the smudges of thoughts I have had for so long and could never elucidate.

I left the house and walked around a bit just thinking about what you said, and turning it over in my mind - and it was just as crystalline when I got home as it was when I left.
posted by gerls at 11:51 PM on April 12, 2012


SomeOneElse and Ivan, it is really cool to see people on the Internet sympathize in a privlege discussion and not just talk over each other.

I facilitated a work team of young, social justice super stars who I really loved and respected and it was really hard watching things fall apart and people talking over each other as identity issues popped up throughout the year and the worst part was that so much of it was invisable to me because of my own background and naivety even though I was supposed to be in a mentor role. Chapps, your A-E really hit home. (And I think I'd be super vulnerable to the 10,000 years of patriarchy argument, because it is hilarious.)

Discussing privlege has a real risk of turning into an arm wrestling match. I think one way to preface those discussions instead is to focus on each our own privlege, independent of comparison. When we get to comparisons, it could be more like asset mapping. Match needs to haves. A male college feminist has access to those disgruntled dorm room conversations about the draft or men's rights or whatnot but they might not have the words on the tip of their tongue to intervene. Women and transgendered feminists have the experience that sometimes makes those words easier to find. Need, meet asset, asset, meet need.
posted by Skwirl at 12:06 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"OK, then I did misunderstand and I'd like to sincerely apologize. I let a lot of emotion that swelled up in me reading your stuff get loose and I lashed out inappropriately. I'm sorry for that.

I do think I feel empathy and I agree that it is right to feel empathy, but I also understand why it is a painful and rare thing, and I can't manage it all the time. I guess I failed at it pretty badly tonight."


That's okay. I should have tried to be more empathetic in my response to you, too.

And maybe I can do a bit better right now, actually.

Last night I had some suicidal ideation for the first time in many months. (Which, honestly, doesn't alarm me that much given the contrast to the period in 2010 when I quite literally had suicidal ideation many, many times a day, every day, for four or five months. Whatever I feel now, which is extremely depressed by normal standards, just doesn't seem that serious in comparison.)

So, anyway, our exchange is pretty close to a conversation/argument that's been going on in my immediate family for my entire life. My disease is genetic. My father had it, my sister has it. And my father felt (he died a few years ago) and I have always felt that this disease isn't so terribly bad, that in the grand scheme of illnesses, things could be a lot worse. My sister has always hated that point-of-view, feeling that it unfairly minimizes her own experience of her suffering (and, to be fair about relative experiences, she and my dad are on the extreme worse end of the spectrum and had many surgeries and such as children, while I only had one surgery on both hips as a child) and, also (something I don't quite get but which I think is psychologically relevant and revealing) she feels that this is somehow insulting to those people who have it worse. I think this reveals an association of severe illness with something inherently "wrong" with someone and that's why sees this as insulting — again, I think her different childhood health experience than mine had a much different psychological effect. I've never felt "broken" (except about depression, tellingly, which I've always considered actually the much worse illness of the two). She has (I intuit).

But, underneath all this is that I don't think my father did, or I do, consciously experience self-pity. Maybe I do about depression. About my illness, I don't think I do except about very particular and rare things (like when I fall, which is really scary). I can't speak to my sister's mental state about this.

Yet I've begun to think that I very likely may be lying to myself, or hiding this aspect of myself from myself. Perhaps I feel a great deal of self-pity and I have such an emotional investment in not feeling this way, that I simply refuse to admit it, even to myself. And if that's true, it's also likely that I have a blind-spot with regard to other people about this. Specifically, I'm probably intolerant of it in others. More specifically, I think was I was intolerant in that I thought I detected some in your comment.

And, you know, that's exactly the opposite of my values. There's nothing I value more than empathy and accepting of others. It's who I want to be more than anything else.

Being more objective and rational, I think there's nothing wrong with feeling some self-pity. Or, I wish I could put this some way that isn't using such loaded language. Feeling that hurt and resentment and anger at the fact that one's life sucks, that one is unhappy, that one wants to be happier and have things one wants and needs but is missing, but that one doesn't know how to find. Those are not only natural things to feel in that situation, but those are things that a healthy human being should feel in those situations. Maybe not so much resentment, but some degree is well-within the range of normal and tolerable human vices.

I don't know how much, if at all, I feel those things. It well may be the case that I'm unhealthy because I don't. Because if I don't, I know where it's being directed instead: at myself, internally. Honestly, I don't feel that I'm at the mercy of the rest of the world. I've always felt, and still do even these days when I'm in a bad place, that I'm empowered and that I could make all these things happen if I worked hard enough at it. I've always felt that way. It's all about my failure to do whatever it is that I was supposed to do, not anyone else. And that's just as pathological and unhealthy as blaming everyone else for everything. The reality of the world is that there's a lot in our control and a lot that's not in our control. When we make it all one way or the other, that's about our own issues and maladjustment, not about reality.

And people are naturally tribal. It's very easy for us to find alien groups to blame. I think this is the root of a lot of evil in the world, and I hate the impulse, but I find that I struggle with it all the time with certain groups that I find easy to "other" and to abstract away to some faceless force of all that's wrong with the world. I'm very progressive, so it's probably easy to figure out what groups those are. But I do resist it and it frightens me every time I recognize it in myself.

I most especially have never really understood sexism and misogyny in its more virulent forms because, well, women make up half the population. If we're male, then it's still the case that we have/had mothers. Many of us have sisters, and aunts, and grandmothers. We have daughters. Almost all of us who are straight have loved women. I can understand othering people of another race or religion or otherwise a group that one has little contact with. Or even limited, carefully circumscribed contact with. Perhaps that describes, however, many men's interactions with women. But, still.

As weird or trivial or unlikely as this seems, there's basically no commonly encountered culturally-prominent idea that creates such an intense kind of despair deep in my bones and an associated anger than the "war between the sexes" trope. It's all over the place. We create and consume vast amounts of — god help me — comedy on this subject. And the whole idea just strikes deep into some part of me that makes me feel like an alien-in-disguise visiting this planet.

I have felt quite lonely lately, as you have. I confess that I very occasionally have thought that it's "not fair" that women (it sometimes seems, and usually so to most straight men) can get laid whenever they want, and men can't. But, then I recognize that this isn't true. There's lots and lots of women who would be perfectly willing to have sex with pretty much any man also willing, but can't find one. (Back to that whole "nice guy" thing, which I encourage people to research.) And, anyway, to whatever degree to which I think it's true of women, it's true of me, as well. It's just that, honestly, I'm not willing to have sex under those circumstances. I don't want to have sex with someone just because we both want to have sex. I'm sex-positive, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. But I prefer an emotional connection, or at least friendship, and when there isn't any of those things, I usually end up finding it obscurely depressing. Because as much as I want sex, I want an actual relationship — love — about ten times more. Or at least some meaningful personal companionship.

So, in only a very small way, and only very infrequently and briefly, have I ever felt resentment against women, as a class, for my loneliness. Mostly, I can't really relate to that feeling. I don't "other" women much at all, and this has become more apparent to me in my experience of OKCupid, as an example. I think of prospective romantic partners as "people", that's the word I use both internally and externally. I'm straight, so those prospectives are 100% women. But they're not an abstracted class to me, it's a big basket of individuals. I mean, really, the difference between someone I match with at 90% and someone I match with at 20% is so vast that it makes gender irrelevant.

But, again, I end up blaming myself for my loneliness. And it's not clear to me at this point that doing that is a very healthy or productive way of seeing things, either. I guess ideally we shouldn't blame anyone for our pain and our grief and misery and our setbacks (unless they're truly and directly responsible, I suppose.) Even more so, we shouldn't resent people for these things, including ourselves. But we do. And I can't honestly say that I haven't merely redirected all that outward blame and resentment inward. Maybe that's better; but if it is, it's still far from optimal or healthy.

And, in any case, I think I could do better in being understanding of and compassionate towards those who are angry and resentful.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:19 AM on April 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I would hope the vandalism can be seen as an attempt at offensive humor, which I often appreciate, and not as a serious dissenting backlash against the feminism awareness campaign, which I support.

Offensive humour only works if the humour overrides the offense. "Make me a sandwich" doesn't make you Bill Hicks.

For instance if they were posters about police, than a prank played on it wouldn't be labeled vandalism. It would probably turn viral and be loved.

Let me get this straight: soi what you're saying is that if the circumstances were completely different, our responses would be completely different as well? No, really?
posted by MartinWisse at 4:16 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, honestly, I gave up on feminism in grad school. I'm male, and liberal feminism had been a really, really important thing to me. I was apparently just born with egalitarian inclinations, but much of the humane, liberal feminism that I encountered in high school and college (esp. an old anthology titled something like _Philosophy and Feminism_ (or vice-versa)) introduced me to ideas that were still extremely important to my moral and intellectual development, such as it's been. I grew up on a farm in the Ozarks, so, for example, I had never thought about the fact that sex and gender (that is, e.g., maleness and masculinity) needn't always go together. A minor point, perhaps, but interesting to me.

Then I went to graduate school.

After a couple of years, many females in my cohort became enamored of radical, lefty, illiberal feminism and its attendant irrationalism. I was informed that one could not be both a liberal and a feminist, nor both a male and a feminist. I was also informed that feminism was inconsistent with analytic philosophy, and necessarily allied with the loonier reaches of continental philosophy, Lit Crit, critical theory and cultural studies. I once defended _Playboy_ as "pretty innocuous" (which it is), and a feminist prof called me "dangerous to women" in front of my students. I watched my formerly-rational friends fall under the sway of Andrea Dworkin and other kooky anti-pornography (and, honestly, anti-sex-and-eroticism) "thinkers." Later, some still-sane women in the dept went to one of the feminist meetings and informed me that the departmental feminists had said that my gf "should be afraid" to be with me. They described the meeting as creepy and crazy.

Such craziness--PC excesses and so forth--are more common at more prestigious universities, which are more lefty and also more subject to fads. My own rather modest current institution doesn't seem to be afflicted by this brand of madness, but it's not clear.

At any rate, I spent years watching academic feminists move back and forth between true, liberal claims and false, radical, sexist ones (all heterosexual sex is rape; logic is inherently male; power for women is more important than equal rights) depending on whether they were talking to civilians or other academic feminists. I gave up on feminism after all this, as you might expect.

Now, if a normal person asks me whether I'm a feminist, I'll say 'yes,' because that probably just means that I favor equal rights without regard for sex. If someone in academia asks me, I'll say 'no,' because in academia it means something closer to the radical thing, the irrational thing, the sexist thing that I want nothing to do with. Feminism seems to have largely moved back from the brink, back towards something more sensible and liberal and egalitarian. Good for it, if so, and I hope it has.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:53 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks skwirl - I really hope you grow up to stop saying "I really hope you grow up" to those people you disagree with.

desjardins: If you're a woman under the age of 35 and you work in the West, then you're going to be earning marginally more on average than same aged men who live and work in the same country as you. If you're working class, you're going to find it easier to find a job than the men from the same social class as you. If you're a girl and you're at school, you'll end up with a better education than the boys you go to school with. This isn't particularly relevant to the conversation at hand, but your comments and assumtipns about women in the workforce aren't as cut and dried as you make them.


The conversation has once again moved over to privilege, and what it is, and the usual suspects are on their high horses about how there's a huge number of men on metafilter who (a) don't understand their privilege; (b) could never understand their privilege, on account of it being invisible to them and (c) how maybe these troublesome men should start listening, because obviously it's impossible to discuss these things and listen to other people at the same time.

There's maybe 0 people in this thread who are opposed to feminism, have no idea what privilege is, and have never examined their life in relation to that privilege. I may even be overestimating there.

As troublesome as privilege is as a concept (IF is right about it not being additive, but this somehow doesn't stop everyone from constantly using it a kind of quantitive measure), there are plenty of men who understand the concept, are pretty much up to date with what you've told them about it but still disagree with you on a couple of minor points. They disagree because they have a different take on the subject. It's not because they're blind to their own patriarchal privilege.

Also, you'd think that feminists (men and women alike) would be more careful to dismiss the concerns of the people they disagree as whining and ignorance. It 's becoming more common for those people who have any issues with the "correct" politically correct stance to be labelled in this way.
posted by zoo at 7:11 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're a woman under the age of 35 and you work in the West, then you're going to be earning marginally more on average than same aged men who live and work in the same country as you. If you're working class, you're going to find it easier to find a job than the men from the same social class as you. If you're a girl and you're at school, you'll end up with a better education than the boys you go to school with.

There's a lot of [citation needed] packed into that paragraph, and most of it either ignores the points that have been made above, or gets the underlying statistics wrong.

"Women under 35 in the west earn more," for example, is only true when comparing college-educated women to high-school-graduate or college-dropout men in large american cities. Compare equally qualified men and women, and we're back to systemic wage disparity on a local, national, and global level.

This brings us back to the idea that 'privilege' is a structural and statistical thing, not an absolute statement that every man will wind up in a better place than every woman. You say that "everybody understands this," but the examples you choose are perfect examples of that assumption.

posted by verb at 7:47 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Verb, the article you link to doesn't seem to say that college-educated women earn more only when compared to high-school-graduate or college-dropout men. The article has a line suggesting that the disparity is due to women's much higher rates of higher education (which is a whole other topic vis-a-vis who the system is encouraging), but it doesn't seem to link that to any actual data, and I'd be pretty taken aback if peer-reviewed researcher hadn't controlled for something so wage-defining as education. Other citations?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:05 AM on April 13, 2012


Verb, the article you link to doesn't seem to say that college-educated women earn more only when compared to high-school-graduate or college-dropout men. The article has a line suggesting that the disparity is due to women's much higher rates of higher education (which is a whole other topic vis-a-vis who the system is encouraging), but it doesn't seem to link that to any actual data, and I'd be pretty taken aback if peer-reviewed researcher hadn't controlled for something so wage-defining as education. Other citations?


The article I linked to specifically says that the counter-intuitive data point zoo referred to (that in 150 or so large American cities, professional women under 35 made 8% more than their age-peers). The author of the study is the source of the education explanation:
The figures come from James Chung of Reach Advisors, who has spent more than a year analyzing data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. He attributes the earnings reversal overwhelmingly to one factor: education. For every two guys who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do.
If you can track down any additional details on Chung's research, I'd be interested as well -- his paper for a NY-area consumer marketing firm seems to be the only source for the statistic that zoo cited. Other reinforces the simple fact that equally qualified women earn less than men, and the disparity becomes more pronounced as incomes rise. Most of the writing on this subject revolves around trying to explain why. The underlying fact of income disparity isn't up for debate.

The question of why female graduation rates are climbing is, as you say, another issue. There are a couple of interesting explanations for that, but they don't affect the underlying premise that zoo was advancing: that women are getting paid more than equally qualified men.
posted by verb at 8:28 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The PayScale link is interesting, though a study based entirely on self-reported data of a small subset of people is of limited use. I was surprised, though, that the researchers concluded such a small gap, and one largely explicable by external factors. Certainly makes the 80% number seem less plausible. And as women's participation in higher education continues to be leagues ahead of men, the likelihood that women are on the way to being primary economic movers gets higher. Which, I fear, will not make discussions of privilege, and attendant resentments, any less.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:48 AM on April 13, 2012


I agree with you verb, that it isn't simply a case of women getting paid more than men. I actually didn't mean to express that as strongly as I did. I wanted to make the point that inequalities in pay aren't as obvious as stated by desjardins.

As it stands, the discrepancy in pay for younger workers is negligible enough to me to be a statistical anomaly. It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out in the next couple of decades.

I should have cited. The study you highlighted from the US is one of my frames of reference. The other was from the UK, and I can't find it. This Forbes Article talks about how the pay gap in the UK is concentrated in people aged 50 and above, and hypothesises that the pay gap at this age is more likely linked to differing life choices (the motherhood pay gap) and sexism that existed when people at this age started working.

It's all a bit murky when you try to get to the bottom of it.

I tend to think female graduation rates are higher because women are more mature at that age, are better at learning and are more able when it comes to communication. (Making women more capable in modern first world things)
posted by zoo at 8:50 AM on April 13, 2012


Ivan, I don't understand your math example; men aren't suddenly going to be worse at math if women are presumed to have equal ability.

Side note: the dictation on the iPhone translates your name as hey babe. Wtf.
posted by desjardins at 9:02 AM on April 13, 2012


I tend to think female graduation rates are higher because women are more mature at that age, are better at learning and are more able when it comes to communication. (Making women more capable in modern first world things)

Yeah, this is definitely one of those situations where raw data is only the beginning of figuring out what is actually going on. The NBER paper on why women outnumber men in education at the moment is really interesting, because it suggests that it could be a temporary corrective swing and that pre-1930s when a much, much smaller percentage of the population enrolled in higher education the numbers were much more balanced.

I know that in the communities I was part of, the assumption that the vast majority of women would be homemakers meant that investment in higher education was a waste. My mother, for example, got a job doing clerical work and helped put my dad through college rather than going to art school. That wasn't for lack of interest or desire in pursuing art, it was because the idea of not going out and working to put her husband through college was strange and foreign.
posted by verb at 9:19 AM on April 13, 2012


Also, I'm hesitant to ascribe "inherent differences" arguments to womens' new rise in graduation rates, since that's precisely the argument that was made for decades to explain why women weren't in male dominated fields. It's easy to get sucked into 'Hah! Turnabout is fair play!' ways of framing the issue.
posted by verb at 9:22 AM on April 13, 2012


I don't see it as a turnabout thing at all. Women are just smarter at that age. I think there's danger to be had in "inherent differences" arguments, but I don't think we can avoid them when (in the aggregate) they're so obvious.
posted by zoo at 9:27 AM on April 13, 2012


Ivan Fyodorovich: The problem with your Maths based argument is it assumes a couple of things. Firstly, that access to education is a zero sum game & secondly that it's better to teach everyone at the same level than it is to teach a non-deserving elite at a higher level to the detriment of the non-elite.

I can't really agree with the first and a lovely as the sentiment of it is, I see no evidence for the second.
posted by zoo at 9:32 AM on April 13, 2012


I guess the only other point I'd make is that nothing I've ever seen can bear the weight of the "blame" that I think people feel. I don't think that women, individually or collectively, are to blame for anything "bad" around / about me. I get worried whenever somebody seems to approach the idea that that kind of karmic imbalance, (I don't believe in karma but it is an easily understood term), can be taken out of anybody. (I think Wanda Skyes was really on to something when she said that people weren't worried about "reverse racism" they were worried about karma. People are incredibly and constantly concerned that they will ever have to "lose"). My point wasn't to justify my emotional perspective or imply that anybody owes me anything, I was just trying to make the point that everybody/anybody can feel owed. I'll caricature Mitt Romney to make this less personal, (this may be unfair, I can't read Mitt Romney's mind). My very basic understanding of Mormonism leads me to believe that Romney feels his life on earth is spent in service of a cause/god for which he will be rewarded in the afterlife. What I'm getting at is that it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that Mitt Romney believes his life has been spent in service for which he expects reward.

I absolutely don't disagree that sexism and privilege exist. But often when I hear about privilege I hear something like this. "Privilege is the system that exists around us and causes society to prefer white male perspectives, goals, and successes." (I don't disagree). "We're not going to enumerate them or ask for specific changes, we just feel owed something." This may be an unfair characterization, but a statement that approaches that one is going to scare people, including me. People are going to respond by enumerating the things in their lives that they feel are unfair to them, (you can see this above, and in every other conversation on the topic). Other people then act appalled that anybody could compare X to Y. This seems to me to be a strategy guaranteed to detonate on the launchpad, the only way this works is if you get a large enough mob to believe it and ransack the people whom it has been decided are on the other side of the scale. Nobody is going to put themselves on the other side of that scale. And if I personally am on the other side, the only recompense is to come guillotine me and redistribute my possessions. Maybe that really would be just, but I am not going to be anybody's ally while they do it.

if you're miserable then it's reasonable and acceptable to actually resent other people on that basis

I don't think that, I really don't think that. I'm sorry again if I came off as thinking that. But the problem I see is that if that resentment exists at all other people will experience it unless I cloister myself on some level. What, ultimately, is the difference between expressing resentment and expressing resentment at you? I don't even know if the "target" person can tell the difference. And the "source" person doesn't feel resentment because of a justified claim to being the most badly treated person on the face of the planet, if you feel resentment then you feel resentment, that is pretty much the end of the story. My point is that the whole "other people" concept is where this whole thing seems to fall apart to me, into an abyss of everybody feeling owed something.

There's such a thing as justice / equality / redress for specific complaints. But "I just feel owed" looks like a hideously dangerous weapon to me, because everybody is vulnerable to being manipulated by it, and there's no way that anybody can make recompense.
posted by SomeOneElse at 9:50 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been generally curious about this whole insurance/birthcontrol debate so I have been asking a lot of women lately what their take on it is. Mostly: "absolutely, I'm for it"... and then I ask them if condoms should be paid for

Condoms aren't a prescription drug, which is why they aren't covered by health plans. If the pill was an over the counter drug it too would not be covered by health plans. This isn't hard.
posted by Summer at 9:51 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The conversation has once again moved over to privilege, and what it is, and the usual suspects are on their high horses about how there's a huge number of men on metafilter who (a) don't understand their privilege; (b) could never understand their privilege, on account of it being invisible to them and (c) how maybe these troublesome men should start listening, because obviously it's impossible to discuss these things and listen to other people at the same time.

Maybe that's because this thread moved from being about the link to being about whether women really have it so bad after all, as it generally does on Metafilter (and most other places).

Do you think feminism is necessary and desirable and has a role to play? If the answer is 'yes' what the hell is all this 'yeah but women have it easier x y z' all about? If it's 'no' then just admit it.
posted by Summer at 10:06 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Ivan, I don't understand your math example; men aren't suddenly going to be worse at math if women are presumed to have equal ability."

and

"The problem with your Maths based argument is it assumes a couple of things. Firstly, that access to education is a zero sum game..."

I'm perplexed at this. Innate ability at math isn't zero-sum, of course. But other things are.

Education largely is, contrary to zoo's assertion. There are limited educational resources. To the degree to which female children are presumed to be less proficient in math than male children (or deficient!), is the degree to which numerous resources are not utilized for the benefit of female children and become available for the benefit of the male children. When this bias is eliminated, those unequal, extra resources that have been diverted to male children are diverted back to female children, thus subjectively depriving male children of educational resources they previously had.

When math skills are any sort of prerequisite for a job, then in a culture where women are presumed to be less proficient in math and men more proficient, then men have an inherent advantage when being considered for that job. When this bias is eliminated, that advantage is eliminated and male job candidates face a larger pool of competitors for what is necessarily a limited number of positions.

In a culture that presumes that women are less proficient in math than men, there is an internalizing social-expectation effect such that above-and-beyond the results of resource diversion, women also are actually are less proficient at math than men because people internalize such social expectations into their own self-image and sense of innate ability. When this bias is eliminated, men will no longer internalize this bias into their own self-image and no longer feel especially able to learn and do mathematics.

Among other things, sexism is an institutionalized bias that diverts resources away from women and toward men. This is true economically, it's true educationally, it's true politically. In the US it's much less true educationally today than it was before; but that's not to say that overall the situation has reversed, even though it has with regard to graduation rates. More women graduate from college than men, but there's a disparity between the degrees earned, the earning potential by field, and the earning potential within fields. High-paying computing technology-related degrees and employment is one very strong example of this — the ratio of women to men in these jobs has actually declined in the last thirty years and there is not pay equity within the field.

While, in general, there are some structural benefits of being female in Euro-American culture, those are vastly outnumbered and of less intensity than the structural benefits of being male. Because privilege is invisible to the privileged, both those few benefits to women and the loss of benefits to men loom extremely large in the psyche of men. So people focus on things like college graduation rates, or the likelihood of being the victim of non-sexual violence, or court child-custody bias, and point to those as egregious examples of how women really aren't oppressed but men are. There's nothing wrong with worrying about and complaining about those inequities. But there is something wrong with using those relatively few examples as a means of denying the larger truth.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:12 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


As for male privilege, something like 1 in 4 black males will go to prison at some point in their lives

Not to play oppression Olympics, but there being disadvantages to memberships in other groups is a terrible counter argument to dealing with sexism.

"I don't think AIDS research is important, because HPV CANCER."

And you probably have no idea what a horrifically sexist thing it is to say to attack someone for being able to profit from their looks but not being cool with the concept of a looks focused gender imposition. It's like attacking a professional mover for saying there's something wrong with a culture that over values male physical strength because they move pianos up and down stairs for a living. It's also got a petty thread of resentment- ha! you're not allowed to own being sexually desired and want to be treated like an equal to me! Dude, ethical porn. Don't shoot yourself in the foot over this, it's not even in your best interest to make taking your clothes off a nasty, passive experience.
posted by Phalene at 11:10 AM on April 13, 2012


When this bias is eliminated, those unequal, extra resources that have been diverted to male children are diverted back to female children, thus subjectively depriving male children of educational resources they previously had.

So let's say you have an advanced math course in high school that is currently made up of 20 boys and 10 girls because girls are shunted towards the regular or remedial classes. If the ratio was equal, you're saying that 5 boys would lose out? Why not make it 20 and 20 and have either larger class sizes or two classes? I mean, lack of funding for schools is a whole 'nother issue, but assuming society comes to want girls AND boys to do well at math, you think society would say "fuck it, some boys will have to lose out" ?

When this bias is eliminated, men will no longer internalize this bias into their own self-image and no longer feel especially able to learn and do mathematics.

So you think that if a boy currently scores 700 on the math section of the SAT, his score will go down if girls are perceived as equally capable? I don't understand why.
posted by desjardins at 11:12 AM on April 13, 2012


When this bias is eliminated, men will no longer internalize this bias into their own self-image and no longer feel especially able to learn and do mathematics.

Cue a crippling math spiral where, within a generation, no one can build a goddam bridge without its being like thirty feet too short and it just falls down into the river it's spanning and society crumbles, all infrastructure ruined, because some wiseass told women they were allowed to look at the multiplication tables.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would hope the vandalism can be seen as an attempt at offensive humor, which I often appreciate

Maybe it's time to do a little introspection?

You'll have to pry my George Carlin albums from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Gelatin at 11:16 AM on April 13, 2012


You men can all relax, I never took Calculus.
posted by desjardins at 11:18 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You men can all relax, I never took Calculus.

I think the best moment of the last week was getting into an argument with another nerd-friend of mine about tricks for factoring prime numbers at a local bar. The bartender sighed, shook her head, and shouted over to us, "No, no, that only works for four digits or less, don't you guys know ANY math?"
posted by verb at 11:32 AM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Education largely is, contrary to zoo's assertion. There are limited educational resources. To the degree to which female children are presumed to be less proficient in math than male children (or deficient!), is the degree to which numerous resources are not utilized for the benefit of female children and become available for the benefit of the male children

This is nonsensical.

Education is not fossil fuel. It is not limited, and it is scalable. Educating and paying more teachers and building more schools is a relatively simple process. The only reason any children suffer from lack of access to education in this country is because of politics, not because of any physical barrier to doing so.

In fact, with birthrates dropping in many countries, you would expect there to be more access, not less, to existing educational resources in future.
posted by emjaybee at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


... tricks for factoring prime numbers ...

I have an algorithm that can factor any prime number in O(1) time. I'm making it available for the low, low price of $24.95. Send now!
posted by benito.strauss at 12:13 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


My best friend (a woman) is in grad school for geophysics after attaining bachelor's degrees in mathematics and geology (at the same time!). She did get some sort of "women in the sciences" grant, which was badly needed because she is a single mom who had been doing unskilled factory work. I hope there is not some dude out there shaking his fist because she took his place.
posted by desjardins at 12:53 PM on April 13, 2012


I hope there is not some dude out there shaking his fist because she took his place.

In my experience, there is.

In a bar or over dinner with his family or hanging out with his buddies, there is a guy angry that he didn't get into school because women or blacks or asians or some "privileged minority" that "gets all the breaks" was given "preferential treatment" because of "quotas."

My brother in law talked about this a lot when he was planning to go to college, at age 26, after having failed out a few years earlier. He complained that he wouldn't get any scholarship help because "he was a white guy, not some kind of minority." We asked him if he'd actually checked, but he waved it off as naiveté; who in the world of liberal academia would ever give a white guy the kinds of breaks that women and minorities regularly get?

A few months later I saw him posting on Facebook that God had really blessed him, and "prepared the way" for him. The majority of his tuition was covered, as it turns out, by state financial assistance.

In a lot of situations, the elimination of male privilege is less a concrete experience than the accepted narrative that frustrated blue-collar service-industry guys are repeating to each other as an explanation for much larger systemic economic issues. The reality of the nature of your friend's grant has little to do with the fist-shaking that occurs.
posted by verb at 1:02 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"This is nonsensical.

Education is not fossil fuel. It is not limited, and it is scalable. Educating and paying more teachers and building more schools is a relatively simple process. The only reason any children suffer from lack of access to education in this country is because of politics, not because of any physical barrier to doing so."


This is a really weird argument. I am baffled why people are denying what is both obvious and necessarily true.

All other things being equal, educational resources are zero-sum. If you spend less time and money on one child, you can spend more time and money on another. This plays out every day in every school and in every school district. Of course you can remedy the potential loss of resources when inequity is reduced by increasing the overall amount of resources in the whole system so that everyone is raised to the same standard as the formerly privileged class enjoyed. That's the ideal solution.

But that generally doesn't happen, at least not immediately, in the real world, especially in education. Budgets are already tight; children's access to teachers is decreasing, not increasing; and the taxpayers are unwilling to raise tax rates to add funding to education.

And even putting that practical reality aside, ultimately there is a limit on educational resources, no matter how much money is invested. Not everyone can be a teacher. There are limited hours in the day. Education isn't even in principle an unlimited resource.

Sure, we're a long way from running into those ultimate limits. But that just brings us back to the practical problem that there's little political will to increase resources devoted to education. And the only reason I'm dealing with the "no limitation in principle" argument is because it was used as a fundamental claim that educational resources aren't limited.

"So you think that if a boy currently scores 700 on the math section of the SAT, his score will go down if girls are perceived as equally capable? I don't understand why."

Because social expectations are self-fulfilling prophecies. There's scads and scads of studies, not just in education, that demonstrate that this is true. It's probably more obvious to you that when society has been telling you, as a female, that you're naturally bad at math, that you tend to internalize that and consequently not do as well at math as you otherwise would have. But it's true in the other direction, as well. When society tells you, as a male, that you're naturally good at math, then you tend to internalize that and consequently do better at math than you otherwise would have.

And this being told you're good or bad at something is very much a relative thing. If everyone is told they're good at something, then that becomes meaningless. What this is about is being perceived as being naturally better or worse than others at a task, and there are a huge amount of things that males and females are perceived as being differently and naturally better and worse at. These social perceptions are self-fulfilling prophecies. When you stop telling boys that they are naturally and especially good at math relative to non-boys, then, yes, their test scores go down.

This is a very important part of privilege. It's not just that the privileged classes lack institutional barriers against them, or that they have institutional benefits which accrue to them. It's also that living in a world of few barriers and high social expectations of ability and achievement is very, very different from living in a world of many barriers and low social expectations of ability and achievement. Living in these two different worlds fundamentally alters one's own self-image, one's own sense of agency.

Of course it's true that the kids who live in wealthy, privileged communities do better educationally than do kids who live in poor, unprivileged communities because the wealthy kids have resources that the poor kids lack. But it's also true that even when there is an equality of resources devoted to both groups, including parental engagement, as occasionally happens with attempts at reform, there's still often differential outcomes because the wealthy kids live in a social context where it's assumed they can and will do well while the poor kids live in a social context where it's assumed they can and will do poorly.

Probably the most invisible-yet-powerful aspect of being very privileged — as white, non-lower-class males are in our society — is the inculcated and ubiquitous sense of being empowered, of being the master of one's own destiny. Individual people can, on their own terms, accomplish quite a bit more than most people realize they can. Believing that something is possible for oneself is often the single biggest step anyone can take in their quest to accomplish it. But, on average, this sense of being empowered or not being empowered varies hugely across classes of people in all societies. The more egalitarian and just, the less the disparity, but there's still some. And these different senses of being empowered, as they vary by class, results from a complex circular mix of actual institutional barriers and advantages and the self-perception created by social expectations and the psychological consequences of experiencing those institutional barriers and advantages.

"Cue a crippling math spiral where, within a generation, no one can build a goddam bridge without its being like thirty feet too short and it just falls down into the river it's spanning and society crumbles, all infrastructure ruined, because some wiseass told women they were allowed to look at the multiplication tables."

Cute. But that's not what I'm arguing. I'm arguing that men are better at math than they otherwise would be, and approximately equal to how much worse women are at math than they otherwise would be, because of the difference in resources allocated and social expectations with regard to math, between men and women. Rectifying this wouldn't cause a spiral, it would just reduce male achievement in math about as much as it would increase female achievement in math, all other things being equal.

For example, many people — Larry Summers for example — make a lot of the extreme and notable difference between the sexes with regard to math at the very highest levels of achievement. They feel that this indicates an actual innate difference in ability.

But it's more likely that extremely high achievement requires an even greater concentration of resources devoted to that achievement than does achievement at lower levels. How much time spent with teachers and mentors, how much encouragement, how much outside-of-education practical and social resources have been devoted to helping that gifted individual achieve at that extreme level? At the very highest levels of science and math achievement, as is true of the highest levels of academic achievement in general, opportunities, networking, and locating and securing the necessary resources to remain on track for such achievement is absolutely crucial. It doesn't take much for such projects to falter and fail. Most do.

So when women are perceived as being less capable at math and science than men, how much more difficult is it for them to find such opportunities and secure those resources? How much more likely is it that something will go wrong and the whole enterprise will fail?

And, likewise, all those denied opportunities for women, all those resources — whether it's the right and prestigious advisers and mentors, post-doc positions, tenure-track positions, publications, and many other things — when they're denied to women, they're necessarily made available to men. That's advantage. That's privilege. There are a limited number of such opportunities and resources available. When they're denied to women, they go to men. Or, alternatively, when they're preferentially given to men, they're denied to women.

When the best universities and colleges in the US excluded women and most non-whites, that meant that all those resources which were denied women and non-whites went to men and whites. Those are resources that white men had to give up, and rightly so. It wasn't the case that eliminating the institutional barriers and bias was accompanied by a deliberate increase in overall resource allocation such that no one found themselves in a reduced circumstance. In the much longer term, that's what happened. But in the short term, it's not.

I'm frankly shocked that there's a perception by many here that institutionalized discrimination, including within education, doesn't involve the appropriation of resources that should have gone to one class and which are redirected instead to a privileged class. There seems to be some need to see addressing discrimination in terms of somehow not ever reducing the privileged class's absolute resources and opportunities. Maybe because the privileged class is so sensitive to this.

But that's what privilege is. That's why we talk about privilege qua privilege. It's why the privileged class hates the discussion of privilege, because it makes it clear that they have things they should not have.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:18 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ivan: So given that women are now graduating from institutes of higher education in much higher numbers than men, as well as graduating high school in much higher numbers, and therefore consuming more of said limited (and extremely valuable) resource than men, does this affect your view of privilege and resource allocation?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:29 PM on April 13, 2012


I mostly addressed that point earlier, particularly in that looking at degree rates overall is less meaningful now than looking at what men and women are getting degrees in, and how that affects their earning potential and other opportunities. Some people like to claim that this reversal with regard to diplomas and degrees overall proves that there is no longer negative bias against women in education or the workforce. That's disingenuous.

But, more specifically, as the defenders of the status quo of racism and sexism like to so often point out, differential outcomes is not prima facie evidence of differential opportunity. It's not clear to me that there is institutional bias favoring women and disfavoring men overall in education; and it's not entirely clear to me that changing social expectations are doing this — though I'm inclined to think that there is some of that affect happening now with what you describe.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:42 PM on April 13, 2012


This statistics canada study about education and gender is really interesting.

It found three reasons for the gap:

1. Difference in scoring on standardized tests
2. Difference in time spent on homework
3. Parental expectation.

Parental expectation is a strong indicator of whether students go to university in Canada, much more influential than family income. And the study says this influence is greater on girls.

So one reason for change is that expectations of girls has changed, and girls are more influenced by the expectations of them.


Additionally, women have a higher increase in income associated with a university degree. As noted above, women with a university degree can earn more than in a male-dominated industry that doesn't require university, while women with no university cannot.

Coming from an industry-based town, this was certainly true for kids where I grew up -- the men could get high paying jobs in the mill, but women rarely did.

Within universities, women and men enrol differently, with men dominating in the sciences and engineering, and women making up more of the population in the humanities. As you go up through the levels of education, there is also an increasing percentage of men. This continues up through the hiring of professors, with men having most of the top positions.

In Canada there have been some recent scandals when all Tier 2 Canada Research Chair posts in one year were awarded to men. hilariously (sob) this Tier 2 chair was created after women protested the lack of female Canada research chairs, and a big push was made to correct this... whoops!
posted by chapps at 3:00 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Ivan, for the thoughtful responses. I'm still not convinced all bases are covered, but I'll log off before this becomes another 1000 comment thread. I appreciate your clarity and openness throughout.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:11 PM on April 13, 2012


I was referencing mathematics specifically when I said it wasn't a zero sum game. I get where you're coming from IF and here's why I don't think it is a zero sum game:

Technology is extremely useful in mathematics. Time that you had to spend with students previously can now be passed over to machines, and by and large this resource is scalable, and especially with Math, it's pretty much just as good as a teacher. Not everyone has access to technology, so this comes with caveats.

Teaching itself has some scalable components (teacher at front with whiteboard) and some non-scalable components (helping kids out as they get stuck). Even in an imagined non-real-world situation, you'd still have a situation where only these non-scalable components would be zero-sum.

We actually had a situation where our eldest was failing her Math. It looks like the teacher she had was poor. It's cost us £20.00 a week for about 4 months with an after school Math club to push her grade up two places. That resource which didn't exist inside school is actually available outside school for less than I spend on cigarettes. Not that everyone can afford £20.00 a week, and institutionalized sexism means parents may not consider it as an option for their daughters, but it's still available and within the budgets of most parents.
posted by zoo at 12:15 AM on April 14, 2012


Summer, I am aware of and understand that condoms are not prescription drugs - it was a hypotehtical. It was a question intended to flesh out those who were really were just about more for me and not a real world suggestion or question. This isn't hard.
posted by mbatch at 4:30 PM on April 14, 2012


Summer, I am aware of and understand that condoms are not prescription drugs - it was a hypotehtical. It was a question intended to flesh out those who were really were just about more for me and not a real world suggestion or question. This isn't hard.

What is the point of a question that ignores the reality of the situation? Birth control pills are a prescription drug, condoms are not, that is why birth control pills are covered by health care plans and condoms are not. That is the reality of the situation. What is the point of a question that ignores this?

intended to flesh out those who were really were just about more for me

You'd already reached your conclusion hadn't you? So it wasn't a good faith question after all. Nor one that even made any sense.
posted by Summer at 6:30 AM on April 15, 2012


Not sure why you assume covering birth control pills is for women only. You guys are paying half when they're not covered, right? Just like I buy condoms because they are not just for me?

(hee hee)


I find the debate about covering the pill in the US interesting. It was considered a big victory in Canada when student unions got birth control into their health coverage plans... While it is prescribed, when used to prevent pregnancy, the pill is preventative (like a vaccine, which is often excluded even if prescribed) whereas insurance is designed to remedy something that has already occurred.

Also, health plans that do cover the pill often don't cover other birth control devices, which are more akin to condoms, but tend to be purchased by women. (diaphragm, iud (prescribed) or sponge (over the counter)).
posted by chapps at 8:30 AM on April 15, 2012


And interesting that health coverage/abortion/birth control didn't get raised as a feminist issue by the students in the poster campaign, actually, since that is always such a heated gender debate in the US.
posted by chapps at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2012


I read about ten pages of the Tumblr feed, and the vast majority of the submissions had nothing to do with feminism at all.. unless I missed a memo somewhere along the line.
posted by drstein at 6:01 PM on April 15, 2012


« Older The JOBS Act...   |   "He is a jackass... but he's t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments